Timo Meier

Sharks finally starting to turn things around

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just four wins in their first 15 games it was easy to have some very valid concerns about the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.

They not only still had what was probably the least productive goaltending duo in the league, but the team in front of those goalies looked to be a fraction of the one that had been a Stanley Cup contender in previous years. They were getting dominated territorially, their best players were not producing, and it seemed like a team that was inching its way toward a coaching change — or some other massive change — in an effort to shake things up. Especially since they already tried one roster move to try and turn things around by bringing back veteran forward Patrick Marleau long after it seemed like that was no longer going to be an option.

Things have rapidly started to change for the better in San Jose.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers riding a six-game winning streak and are gaining ground on the teams around them in the Pacific Division.

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

They will have an opportunity to keep gaining that ground over the next few weeks with five of their next seven games –including Tuesday’s — coming against Pacific Division foes.

What has changed for the Sharks over the current winning streak?

How about everything.

Well, almost everything.

As a team, the Sharks are finally starting to dictate the pace of play, carrying the possession, and out-chancing teams, all of which is massive shift from earlier in the season. That is also starting to turn into goals, which is turning into ones.

Their top forwards have gone on a tear offensively starting with Logan Couture who has 11 points during the current winning streak. Beyond him, Tomas Hertl is pacing the team with six goals while Timo Meier has nine points.

On defense, Erik Karlsson has started to play like a true impact player and the Norris Trophy contender he should be every year. He has played 25 minutes per night during the streak, is rolling along at a 55 percent Corsi, has six points, and the Sharks are outscoring teams 11-3 when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

They are also winning the special teams battle, and especially on the penalty kill. Since Nov. 4 (the day before the winning streak started) the Sharks have successfully killed 18 out of 19 penalties. That is good enough for the second best success rate in the league during that stretch, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins who have been a perfect 12-for-12.

The only big question that exists right now is still the goaltending.

Even with all of their improved play overall the Sharks have still allowed 17 goals in six games, while starting goalie Martin Jones — who has appeared in all six games — still somehow has a save percentage of .891 during the streak, one of the worst marks in the league. It is absolutely amazing the Sharks have been able to turn their season around while Jones still struggles that much, and it is very reminiscent of how the team had to win a year ago.

It still seems like it is going to be a long-term issue that needs to be corrected if this team is going to get back to a championship level.

For now, though, the team in front of him is doing enough to dominate and take goaltending out of the equation and start getting the Sharks back on track.

Randy Hahn, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Bret Hedican will call the Oilers-Sharks contest from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks rally falls short in otherwise ugly loss to Sharks

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There is not much to like about about the play of the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

For 56 minutes on Tuesday night they looked completely incapable of generating any sort of a push against the San Jose Sharks, only managing to score a couple of garbage time goals late in the third period to make the final score of their 4-2 loss look a little more respectable than it otherwise should have been.

Make no mistake, this was a brutal performance by everyone not named Robin Lehner.

After two periods the Blackhawks found themselves facing a 2-0 deficit and were being outshot by an embarrassing 26-8 margin, getting completely dominated by a Sharks team that entered the game with the worst record in the Western Conference. It was not even close. The Blackhawks looked two steps slow to every loose puck, couldn’t retrieve dump-ins to the offensive zone, couldn’t get out of the defensive zone where they looked like they were on a penalty kill the entire time, and just looked bad.

It was a continuation of a recent trend where they have spent entire games defending in their own zone, bleeding shots against and being unable to mount any sort of sustained attack in the offensive zone.

It happened against Nashville (outshot 51-20) in a 3-0 loss, it happened against Los Angeles (outshot 49-27) in an overtime loss, and it happened again on Tuesday.

Even with their attempts to fix the defense over the summer all of the same problems still exist and there does not seem to be any kind of a solution in the immediate future.

As for the Sharks, this was a desperately needed win.

They came into the night at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and had lost five in a row and seven of their past eight. It’s not too early to start hitting the panic button when you’re already that far out of a playoff spot, and the time has come for them to start collecting points.

Patrick Marleau, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier all scored goals in the win.

They may not have closed out the game the way they wanted to in the closing minutes, but this was the type of performance the Sharks were expecting from this group. They were in complete control of the game and for the first time started to look like the Stanley Cup contender they are supposed to be.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Vrana, Strome among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat saw his ice time dip to 14:53 per night in 2018-19 and he finished with 34 points in 64 games. This season he’s averaging 16:52 minutes a night and more recently it’s been even higher with him logging 18:56 minutes per game. He’s recently played on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point and Monday morning he bumped up to the first line with Steven Stamkos, per The Athletic writer Joe Smith. Palat already has five goals and nine points in 13 games this season and this seems like a good time to give him a chance.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is nothing exciting, but he’s solid. He had 20 goals and 43 points in 73 games last season and he might do a little better in 2019-20 after scoring four goals and nine points through 15 games. Having eligibility on both wings gives him some extra flexibility and he chips in a bit in most common fantasy category. He’s not a bad stopgap when you have an injury.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/LW: Strome has always had so much potential, but he couldn’t seem to harness it for long with the Islanders or the Oilers. Now with the rebuilding Rangers, he might have finally found another level. He has four goals and 11 points in 11 games this season. That’s thanks to his current hot streak, but he’s also averaged an impressive 17:56 minutes in 2019-20, which I think will help his staying power. Take him now if you have an opening for him in the hopes that this will be his breakout campaign.

Michal Kempny, Capitals – D: If you’re looking for a hot defenseman who is available in most leagues, Kempny is about as good as you can do. He’s owned in just 15% of Yahoo leagues and has scored two goals and six points in his last four contests. Just be prepared to drop him when he cools off because he’s probably going to be unremarkable overall this season.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW: Duclair showed promise back in 2015-16 with a 44-point rookie campaign, but that’s still his career-high. It’s too early to write him off at the age of 24, and playing for the lowly Senators is leading to him getting more ice time than ever before (15:33 minutes per game), but he’s still a high-risk pickup if you intend to hold onto him all season. For now though, he’s an interesting short-term play given how hot he is. He’s scored four goals and five points in his last four games.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jakub Vrana, Capitals – LW: Vrana is on a five-game point streak, but he’s been especially crazy recently with five goals over his last two games. I don’t see him as a great long-term pickup, but you may as well take advantage of his hot streak while it lasts. Just don’t hesitate to drop him when he cools off.

Tomas Tatar, Canadiens – LW/RW: Tatar set a career-high last season with 58 points in 80 games and he seems to be building on that in 2019-20. He’s scored four goals and 11 points in 14 contests, which puts him on pace for 64 points. Despite that, his IPP is actually on the low side, which suggests that he might have actually had some bad puck luck thus far. Take that with a grain of salt, but even after doing that, he does look like a solid addition to most fantasy squads this season.

Oskar Lindblom, Flyers – LW: Lindblom is hot right now with two goals and four points in three games, but he’s also been solid throughout the 2019-20 campaign so far. He has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games, which would represent a big jump from his 33-point showing in 2018-19 if he could maintain his current pace. He probably will slow down – his 24.1 shooting percentage in particular looks unsustainable – but it’s still fair to bet on him comfortably surpassing the 33-point mark. A big part of that can be attributed to the 23-year-old’s development and his increased responsibilities. He’s gone from averaging 13:45 minutes in 2018-19 to 16:54 minutes this season.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: Borowiecki is another player on a hot streak you might be able to ride, but there’s a nice secondary benefit to him. He has a goal and four points in his last four games, so if you grab him now and that streak lasts a little longer then that’s great. If it doesn’t though, the hits he provides are a good consolation prize. He ranks second among defensemen in the NHL with 47 hits in 12 contests and is first in hits per game among those who have participated in at least five contests.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Pionk is someone I’ve recommended before, but he’s still owned in just 49% of Yahoo leagues, so for many there’s still time to take him. He’s doing well in his second full NHL campaign and the shift form the Rangers to Winnipeg, which have given him a bigger role, has helped as well. He has two goals and nine points in 15 games this season.

Players You May Want To Drop

Dustin Byfuglien, Jets – D: If you were being patient with Byfuglien in the hope that eventually he’d report to the Winnipeg Jets and resume his NHL career, there isn’t much reason to still hold onto him. While it is possible that he will ultimately decide to play again, the situation changed when he underwent ankle surgery. He’s now expected to miss four months, which basically makes this season a write off no matter what he decides.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist has been solid this season with five goals and 10 points in 14 games, but he’s now on the injured reserve list. He sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday and it’s believed that he will be out “longer-term,” per the Penguins. If you’re in a standard league, then Hornqvist doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant holding onto him while he’s hurt unless you happen to have a spare IR slot to stash him in anyways.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Olofsson got off to an incredible start this season with six goals and eight points in seven games, but he has just two assists in his last eight contests. He’s also seen his ice time drop from an average of 18:10 during those first seven games to 16:13 in his most recent eight contests. His hot streak was nice while it lasted, but you may as well look elsewhere at this point.

Timo Meier, Sharks – LW/RW: Meier broke out in 2018-19 with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games, but he can’t seem to get going this season. Through 15 games he has just two goals and four points in 15 contests. He’s far from the only Sharks player who has underperformed, but he is one of the more extreme cases. I think it’s fair to evaluate your alternatives at this point.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: Jones is a bit of a different situation as far as the Sharks go. Even when they’re good, he’s somewhat suspect. Jones has his moments, but he had a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts last season despite the strength of the team in front of him. His main appeal from a fantasy perspective last season was wins and so far in 2019-20 he doesn’t even have that going for him. He has a 2-7-1 record, 3.52 GAA, and .887 save percentage in 11 contests. Even if the rest of the Sharks bounce back, I’m not sure Jones will be particularly good. He’s one of the weakest starter options in the league from a fantasy perspective.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Maple Leafs enter Marleau reunion in a tense state

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“Sometimes you gotta yell at your family,” is something you’d expect from Archie Bunker or some other disheveled sitcom dad, not Auston Matthews when he’s talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet that’s how Matthews explains his approach as the Maple Leafs have been soul-searching (and maybe screaming) amidst a troubling 5-4-2 start.

It feels a bit like the sort of mess that would get a teenager in trouble, so maybe it’s only fitting that Friday represents the return of “dad,” as Patrick Marleau and the San Jose Sharks will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

Marleau’s first game against the Maple Leafs since taking a circuitous route back to San Jose seems like as good a time as ever to dig deeper on Toronto’s troubles, and ponder Marleau’s hot start.

How dysfunctional is this Leafs family?

If the playoffs began before Friday’s games, the Maple Leafs would be on the outside looking in. It’s almost as troubling that other teams in the bubble could pass Toronto thanks to games in hand:

The Maple Leafs’ goals for (40) vs. against (39) categories segue smoothly into an explanation of how Toronto’s played so far in 2019-20: they’s scored a lot of goals, yet unfortunately have allowed almost as many.

Indeed, you can trot out a positive sign, and then quickly “Yeah, but …” away most points of optimism.

They’ve controlled the higher number of events by Corsi, Fenwick, and scoring chance measures at even-strength, but Natural Stat Trick’s measures indicate that they’ve allowed more high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 (80) than they’ve generated (72).

The Maple Leafs have, essentially, been what many people thought they were: a team trying to outscore its problems.

Where things can change

To some extent, the Maple Leafs might just need to live by the sword, and die by the sword. The key, then, is to stay sharp in areas where they can.

Most obviously, the Maple Leafs need to avoid the penalty box. While their power play hums along (25-percent success rate, eight PPG), they’ve allowed just as many power-play goals (eight), thanks to going on the PK 38 times versus only getting 32 power-play chances. Such discipline troubles are especially confounding being that the Maple Leafs have only played four of their first 11 games on the road (it’s human nature for home teams to get at least moderately favorable officiating, after all).

While every season is different, there’s justification to believe that the Maple Leafs can be smarter with their sticks. They were only shorthanded 204 times in 2018-19, the second-lowest total in the NHL.

Being on the PK less often should help their goalies to a degree, but either way, the Maple Leafs need more out of the likes of Frederik Andersen, Michael Hutchinson, and possibly others.

Honestly, the Leafs might not have a ton of hope getting more out of Hutchinson, yet Andersen’s capable of much better. To remind you of the warping effects of small sample sizes, consider the strange quirk that, so far this season, Andersen’s PK save percentage (.881) is slightly higher than his even-strength mark (.879). Considering that Andersen’s career even-strength save percentage is .923, you can expect improvement, even if this ends up being an off year.

Ultimately, the Maple Leafs need to optimize, even if they might see flaws. While Hockey Viz’s heat maps show promise on offense:

It’s clear that the defense needs tidying up:

Marleau riding high

The hacky instinct would be to look at Marleau’s hot scoring start (two goals, four assists for six points in six games), plus Toronto’s bumpy beginning, and argue that Toronto made a big mistake … or they miss his leadership, and so on.

It’s great to see Marleau back in teal, but the numbers are less flattering when you dig deeper. His possession stats are troubling, despite playing almost all of his even-strength shifts with strong linemates in Timo Meier and Logan Couture. You’d like not be that surprised that his shooting percentage (20, vs. 9.9 last season) and on-ice shooting percentage (17.9, vs. 8.5 for his career) both rank as unsustainable.

That’s not meant to degrade Marleau’s inspiring start, because it’s extremely cool. Frankly, the Sharks are weak enough on the wings that it makes perfect sense to bring back their old chum.

Just don’t buy in to potential narratives about the Maple Leafs being lost without Marleau.

Now, arguments about Toronto needing to find answers from a bigger picture sense? That’s a more compelling conversation, although I’d argue that it’s more about how deep the Maple Leafs can go in the playoffs, rather than whether or not they can make it at all.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How worried should winless Sharks be after loss to Predators?

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With the nostalgic signing of Patrick Marleau, plenty of San Jose Sharks fans were thinking of the past on Tuesday. That’s good, because right now, the present hasn’t been pretty.

The Sharks sunk to 0-4-0 on the young 2019-20 season after the Nashville Predators beat them 5-2. This is San Jose’s second 0-4-0 start in franchise history, with the only other instance coming in their awkward earlier phase in 1993-94.

Is it time to play the “Jaws” theme for a rattled Sharks group, or is too soon to ponder such horrors? Let’s bat around a few thoughts.

Sharks’ offense not going swimmingly

Tuesday’s performance brought out backhanded compliments.

After only managing a goal apiece in their first three losses, the Sharks finally scored two goals. Granted, it felt a little empty, as Brent Burns made it 4-2 with about 4:23 remaining in the third period. Also, they finally scored a goal on the power play.

San Jose managed a strong effort in the second period, but Pekka Rinne managed to only allow an Evander Kane deflection goal during that middle frame. Much like against Minnesota, Nashville really turned up the power in the third period to pull away from the Sharks.

A few players stick out as needing more. Timo Meier seemed like a bargain at a $6M AAV, but so far, he’s been ice cold, opening the season without a goal or an assist. Tomas Hertl brought hype as possibly the Sharks’ best center over Logan Couture, yet while Couture is contributing, Hertl is also at a goose egg.

Sharks get stung in transition

To some extent, San Jose is going to “live by the sword, and die by the sword” when it comes to gambling ways from defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Karlsson’s attempt to transition died a painful death on this Filip Forsberg goal:

While Burns has been reasonably productive, Karlsson’s off to a slow start, with an assist in three games (and a healthy baby being born keeping him from the season-opener … maybe he just needs to get his sleep schedule right?).

San Jose is awfully top-heavy, so they’re going to need their best guys to be strong. That perceived lack of depth might mean more tough nights like these than the Sharks are accustomed to.

Predators’ mix looks good again

Matt Duchene now has six assists in his first three games in gold. That pass to Forsberg in the 4-1 goal above ranks as one of his sweetest dishes, and he’s had some great moments that didn’t end up on the scoreboard. Duchene made a fantastic toe-drag move during Tuesday’s game but was thwarted by Martin Jones, while he made a tremendous play to Mikael Granlund that forced Devan Dubnyk to make a highlight reel save in the team’s opener.

As Duchene could attest considering the early reactions to his cold start in Ottawa vs. the misleadingly hot Nashville start for Kyle Turris, it’s too early to say that the Predators “won” in essentially trading Duchene for P.K. Subban. Subban may eventually prove to be a more positive impact-player, all-around, for New Jersey.

The Predators were looking for the right combination of offense, defense, and goaltending in bringing in Duchene, though, and he might just give Nashville that extra gamebreaker to reach that next level.

That’s because Nashville already had some of those, from Forsberg to Roman Josi, who scored two goals and looks like he’ll cost someone (maybe the Predators, maybe a different team) a pretty penny on his next contract.

The Sharks don’t need to panic about making the playoffs, yet with each loss, they are certainly making their climb bumpier, especially as the Vegas Golden Knights appear as molten-hot as the Sharks are ice-cold. Besides, they faced a dangerous Vegas team twice, the Ducks are quietly undefeated, and the Predators could very well be the real deal.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.